Monday, July 10, 2017

UV Protectant Hair Ingredients and Products

UV protectants are ideal for active people, for going to the beach where sand and water amplify UV radiation, and especially helpful for gray hair which tends to discolor (usually turning yellowish) in sunlight. Any hair benefits from UV protection because direct sunlight increases hair's porosity. Sunlight tends to make your hair's cuticles shrink and fuse together - like "shrinky dinks" or similar to what happens to hard plastic placed in a hot oven. That means tiny pores are opened up where the cuticle used to cover the hair. This takes only 200 hours in the sun - half an hour a day for just over a year.

Brown to black hair tends to fade both lighter and reddish in the sun and blonde hair and red hair lose color. Highlighted hair tends to become "brassy" and gray/white hair can turn yellowish as well.
One may not blog about summer and
sunshine without invoking a beach
scene. Here you go.

The Ingredients:
These are all UV light absorbers - the word "protectant" is commonly how these are marketed.

  • Octylmethoxycinnamate  (a.k.a. ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate or octinoxate) - This works best as a spray containing oils or oily ingredients - not as well in gels or shampoos or conditioners. 
  • Cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride - This is a good UV protectant simply because it is also a substantive (bonds to hair) conditioner - it bonds to the hair whether applied as a shampoo, conditioner or spray, it stays on if you go in the water. It also helps prevent breakage because it is a conditioner. This is used in quite low concentrations – it does not need to be at the top of the ingredient list. 
  • Benzophenone-3, Benzophone-4 - Water-soluble UV absorber. For leave-on products, but may wash off if you go in the water. 
  • Quaternium-95 and Propanediol - This is also fairly new and is also a substantive conditioner, so it can be applied as a shampoo, conditioner, or leave-on and should stay on if you go in the water.
You know, wear a hat. A hat with a dense fabric (straw hats need to be a reasonably tight weave) will keep off much of the UV. Or you can buy a UPF 30 or 50-rated hat (the fabric has the UPF rating). Hats protect your eyes from sun so you don't get cataracts, keeps the sun off part of your face so you don't end up with lots of wrinkles or dry skin, prevents "part-burn." Hats keep the UV light off your hair, but your hair can still get pretty hot under a hat and dehydrate.

UV Buffs with UPF of 30 or 50 are handy too. Cover all your hair - if you have long hair, pin the ends up so they're covered.


  1. Could you please note which of those products are CG friendly and which are not?

  2. Any thoughts about whether coconut oil has sun-protective qualities? This is something I've read so many times online (although often in dubious sources ;-), but I've tended to take it with a grain of salt as part of the "coconut-oil-is-a-miracle-product-that-will-save-your-life" mania... But curious if there's any scientific basis in the claim? I spend quite a lot of time outdoors, esp. on long bike rides. While a fabric buff under my helmet protects most of my hair, I do have a long braid that hangs out back--been wondering if a light coating of coconut oil over it would help protect it, or I should start using a chemical UPF block...
    Thanks again!

    1. Hello Nina,
      I'm armed with my salt-shaker for this, you should be too. I found an article referencing a no-longer-available source that found sesame oil "resists" 30% of UV rays and coconut, peanut, olive and cottonseed oil "block out" about 20% or UV rays. You can find that here:
      They're referencing a publication from the cosmetics industry, not a scientific journal.
      Because I can't access how that study was done, I don't know how they measured that resisting or blocking out of UV rays. What was the wavelength of the UV rays? You need to cover a broad spectrum of UV wavelengths to protect hair (or skin). What does "resist" and "blocking out" mean exactly? That would matter a lot! Which 20% or 30% was blocked - all of it, or just certain wavelengths?
      We automatically think in terms of "SPF" so we might think that absorbing or blocking out 20% of UV rays forestalls skin or hair damage - but in reality it might just mean that 80% still gets through. And it might be 80% of the most-damaging wavelengths for all we know.

      This bit of research (abstract) tested oils and fruit juice powders and found both lacking:

      Coconut oil will help your hair retain flexibility under the sun, and will help with porosity induced by UV rays (and heat from the sun). But I wouldn't count on it to provide serious sun protection, though it might provide other benefits in keeping your hair healthy.

      It might be better to pin up your braid so it's under the buff, or get a second buff for your braid if you're accumulating a lot of sun damage while you're enjoying the outdoors.

      Or try one of the UV protecting products. If you do some research, you'll find that not all of those cover the entire UV spectrum either. Which matters more for skin than hair because hair grows back.

      If your hair does well with protein, use protein after you've been out in the sun a lot - for hydration. If it hates protein, deep condition instead.

  3. Hi Wendy. Thank you so much for this quick and thorough responsive (as well as to my other question a couple weeks back about chlorine!). I will just echo what so many others here have said, we are all so appreciative of your generosity in sharing your time, knowledge, and skills here. Especially as there are so many, ahem, specious sources of hair info online. ;) One of these days when I get myself organized, I plan to do your hair analysis service for sure!

    Anyway, you've confirmed my gut feeling on the coconut-oil-as-sun-protection question, but I would never have found the research to back it up. I had looked into some of those sun protection products, but as you noted they aren't always very clear on what exactly they "block"--many of them just seem to be conditioning products (and often expensive ones!). Maybe I'll just experiment with smoothing some of my regular skin sunscreen on my braid... I confess I've resisted covering or tucking it in...there's so little vanity to hang on to when you're kitted up for road cycling, head to to, that I'm sort of attached to my long braid... But yes, protein and deep conditioning treatments are also both regularly on schedule. And I'm thinking of trying Olaplex (just the at-home "no. 3" version)--kind of intrigued by it, and sounds like it can't hurt.

    Anyway, thanks again!

    1. A rinse-out conditioner assures thorough coverage and those have ingredients which tend to bond to hair. It's really hard to tell if a UV protecting product works because you're still going to have heat-related dehydration. I would probably only be able to tell if one worked if my hair did not lighten as much by the end of summer. And I question my dedication to using it often enough to matter.
      The Bumble & Bumble product is also a heat-protectant, so it covers both problems - heat and UV.
      Most of these ingredients are UV absorbers, like most sunscreens for skin. So that might work too (using regular sunscreen), but I think you'd want to test it on a small strand first in case there is discoloration or it leaves an unpleasant result. Good luck! ~W

  4. Hello,
    I am looking everywhere on internet to find some guidance but I can't find the information I am looking for.
    Those last months I grew quite tired of my natural hair and the amount of energy to keep them nice. I just don't have that time anymore. I hesitate between texlax and Brazilian keratin. What do you think of these two options? Which one will provoked less damaged? Do you have any brands you can recommend? Or another technology that I don't know about which could help? I like to be pretty and stunning and with my natural hair I can't keep up anymore. I experienced too much frizz, puffiness, and a huge mess after taking time to blow dry (for special occasions like wedding).

    1. Hello Lilaa,
      Texlaxing is almost the same as using a relaxer, but with 2 important differences. 1) The timing is shorter, so the hair is changed a bit less. 2) One might skip combing the relaxing solution through the hair, which might reduce some damage because the hair in its swollen state with relaxer on it is more fragile. That being said, relaxer tends to contain lubricants to reduce combing damage.
      With texlaxing, sulfur bonds in the hair are broken in order to change the hair's curl pattern, and they re-form through oxidation (air exposure) over the next day or two. This lasts until the hair grows out, obviously.
      There is damage potential, and I have worked with hair which has been relaxed - usually the hair as a whole still seems healthy, but it is more susceptible to dehydration and needs plenty of good care to stay strong. Preparing the hair well in advance - oil pre-wash treatments with penetrating oils, regular deep conditioning, protein as needed can reduce damage from texlaxing. And those are very helpful in maintaining healthy, strong hair.

      Brazilian keratin treatments don't require breaking sulfur bonds chemically, it straightens the hair through using protein and high heat (each strand needs to be flat-ironed several times) to sort of make a "protein seal" on the hair surface. My understanding is that these treatments last about 1 month. The keratin-straightened hair I've examined sometimes has visible heat-damage.
      There is potential for damage with the high heat use. And if your hair is coarse, it may feel dry or stiff with that much protein applied.

      In an ideal situation - if you were doing this at home, or have a really nice stylist, you'd try both on 2 little sections of your hair (either on your head, or save shed hairs and test off your head) to see which result looked and felt best at the outset.
      Another thought is that - for those of us without expert blow-out skills, hair is always puffy and weird with the initial blow-dry. But because blow-drying is less heat than flat ironing, you might think of the blow-dry as the first step, then apply a heat-styling serum and go over your hair with a flat iron to give it that smooth and polish that the higher heat provides. Or use a heat-free means of elongating your curls before final flat-ironing for smoothness for a special occasion.
      Best wishes -W

  5. Wow thank you so much for your well researched answer.
    I did the texturizer, because I didn't want the permanent straight hair from relaxer, and after researching on the Brazilian keratin lots of people experienced breakage and hair loss. The texturizer defined my curls better than when I was natural, I didn't leave it long, so I still got lots of volume and texture.
    Thank you so much.
    Bless you and your very informative blog.

  6. Hi Wendy,
    Do you think that because cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride is substantive, it will remain on hair for a while even if you use a gentle shampoo afterwards (e.g. using a conditioner containing it as a pre-wash)? I've been using the Shea Moisture superfruit conditioner which contains cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride to detangle before washing for a couple of years now and I've noticed the ends of my hair have lightened less than usual. I wondered if it could be this or if it's something else I'm doing (or maybe even the placebo effect?).
    Anyway, I'd also like say I love how much useful information your blog has, I've learnt so much about my hair and hair product ingredients (and this was one of the blogs that convinced me to try some silicones again after avoiding them for years!).
    Thanks so much

    1. Hello Lauren - Cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride is indeed substantive - so it can be used in shampoo or conditioner. Some of that UV filter will remain even after washing, but some may have been lost. I'm glad you find the blog useful! Best wishes - W

  7. Just to clarify, are you saying that it needs both Quaternium-95 and Propanediol to be UV protecting or just one individually? Thanks!

    1. Hello DCJ - That is correct. The UV protectant is a combination product made from those 2 ingredients. However, I'm not certain that it will be listed that way on all product labels. If they advertise the product as "color-protecting" or UV protecting, that is helpful information.